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Today’s Show:

Sling TV Review

The idea of cutting the cord, removing your reliance on Cable or Satellite to provide the hundreds of channels you rarely watch, has been a pipe dream for many of us. Sure, for those close enough to a transmitter, an over the air antenna really helps fill the void. Netflix and Hulu are great as well. But if you like to watch a lot of TV, you’re still left wanting. Until now. Sling TV may actually be the answer.

You’re right, Sling TV isn’t really cutting the cord. It’s just swapping one TV service for another. But it does allow you to trade in a bill of $80 or $120 or more per month for only $20 a month. So you haven’t cut the cord, but you’ve slimmed it down quite a bit. It’s like the cord on Zumba or P90X.

What is Sling TV?

According to the website, “Sling is the way TV should be. It’s watching the season finale of your favorite show the moment it airs. It’s the latest episodes of your favorite shows and hot new movies on-demand. It’s ESPN, TNT, Adult Swim, and more without the cable company…With Sling TV, there’s no commitment, no installation, and no crazy miscellaneous fees. Just great TV for only $20/mo. Cancel anytime online.”

Bottom line, Sling TV is Live and On Demand television over your Internet connection. Whatever your friends with Cable or Satellite are watching, you can watch at the same time. The base $20 package includes 15 channels:

  • ESPN, ESPN2, TNT, TBS, Food Network, Travel Channel, HGTV, El Rey, Adult Swim, Maker, Disney, ABC Family, Cartoon Network, CNN, Galavision

For an additional $5/mo, the optional Sports Extra package adds 9 more channels

  • ESPNEWS, ESPNU, SEC Network, ESPN Bases Loaded, ESPN Buzzer Beater, ESPN Goal Line, Universal Sports, Univision Deportes, beIN Sports

Also for an additional $5/mo, the optional Kids Extra package adds 5 more channels

  • Disney Junior, Disney XD, Boomerang, Baby TV, Duck TV

And for yet another $5/mo, you can opt for the News & Info Extra package for 4 more channels:

  • Cooking Channel, DIY Network, Bloomberg, HLN

And it’s more than just channels. You also have the freedom to watch on whatever device suits you, or is most convenient at the time. If you want to watch on a TV in your home theater or a secondary room in the house, you can put a Sling TV app on your Amazon Fire TV or Fire Stick, Roku, and coming soon, Xbox and Nexus Player. The Apple TV requires the use of the iOS app for Sling TV with Airplay. If you want to watch on the go, add the app to your iOS or Android device. Or for ultimate flexibility, just install the player on your Windows or Mac computer or laptop.

Performance

The streaming quality of Sling TV is pretty good.  Coming from the company that practically invented place-shifting, you’d think they have some solid history with streaming video quality, and it shows. The video when watched over a high bandwidth connection looked great. Sharp and crisp. They support Dolby Digital 5.1 as well, so you can get some surround sound from the TV connected devices.

Content looked great on a high bandwidth connection including WiFi, only a few stutters occasionally. Things were a bit more hit or miss over 4G – but mostly hit. Our first test over 4G was terrible. Granted it was Sprint 4G, but it was really bad, nearly unwatchable. Ara, being the more methodical of the two of us demanded a recount. Testing over Verizon and AT&T 4G was actually very good. Further tests over Sprint 4G also yielded much better results.

When things were bad over 4G, video would come in sporadically but spent more time stuck on a random frame or a blank screen than actually streaming TV. It is obvious to most, but as you would expect, the quality of the stream is totally dependent on the quality of the data connection. Sling TV is more than capable of looking really good on a phone or tablet over 4G, but if your connection is spotty, the video will reflect that. No streaming technology can overcome a really bad data connection.

Then there are the limitations in the service. For one, you can only watch one thing at a time. So if you have a couple devices in your home that can connect to Sling TV, they’ll all be watching the same thing – or you’ll have to get multiple accounts. Which somewhat defeats the purpose of the $20/month.

Most channels do not provide the ability to pause, rewind or fast forward live television. A few others like HGTV, Food Network, Travel Channel, and a couple others do. On those channels skipping back or forwards is a bit slow since the stream needs to rebuffer. Often the skip buttons didn’t work at all. It would just stutter for a second and start back up right where you were before.  You are better of dragging the timeline slider and moving forward once enough of the stream has buffered.

So while getting TV over the Internet is super cool, and super high tech, handicapping the essentials we’ve all come to love in the DVR is like going a decade back in time. To a time before DVRs and the freedom to stop anything for a snack break or skip commercials. Some channels allow you to watch previously aired shows as if you had recorded them. Some channels don’t have that ability, probably due to the contracts they have with the owners of the syndicated shows.

The user interface is pretty easy to use, although it is a bit quirky and takes some getting used to. But the overall usage patterns are the same for any device, so once you figure it out on one, you’ll have it nailed on any.  We can envision some pretty major usability changes over the next few months as they gather feedback from real users, but it isn’t bad, just…different.

Conclusion

All in all, the Sling TV service is a a great idea, but it may not be the next big thing quite yet.  For a secondary TV in your home that doesn’t have a coax connection, or maybe for a college student, it could be really cool.  As a replacement for your Cable or Satellite service, and especially if you use a DVR, it’ll probably come up a bit short at least at this point in time.

Download Episode #675


Posted by The HT Guys, February 19, 2015 10:54 PM

About The HT Guys

The HT Guys, Ara Derderian and Braden Russell, are Engineers who formerly worked for the Advanced Digital Systems Group (ADSG) of Sony Pictures Entertainment. ADSG was the R&D unit of the sound department producing products for movie theaters and movie studios.

Two of the products they worked on include the DCP-1000 and DADR-5000. The DCP is a digital cinema processor used in movie theaters around the world. The DADR-5000 is a disk-based audio dubber used on Hollywood sound stages.

ADSG was awarded a Technical Academy Award by the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences in 2000 for the development of the DADR-5000. Ara holds three patents for his development work in Digital Cinema and Digital Audio Recording.

Every week they put together a podcast about High Definition TV and Home Theater. Each episode brings news from the A/V world, helpful product reviews and insights and help in demystifying and simplifying HDTV and home theater.